Sylvester McNeil’s log home restoration skills have never been in higher demand.
The Horse Lake resident loves working with wood and restoring log homes under the name Log Home Restoration by Sylvester. He specializes in repairing and restaining log houses and is currently booked solid for the next two years.
“With real estate the way it’s been lately, a lot of the older folks have sold their log homes and people have bought them,” McNeil said. “I don’t even advertise, it’s just word of mouth.”
As a young man, McNeil worked construction in Vancouver and owned several companies, specializing in megaprojects like high rises and bridges. However, the stress of living and working in the big city was too much for him and 20 years ago he was done.
“I always had recreational property up here and I got stuck in traffic one day and had enough. I sold and packed up down there and came here because I always wanted to learn how to build log homes,” McNeil said.
McNeil began to learn how to build log homes but it wasn’t long before he realized that log home builders are “a dime a dozen” in the Cariboo. Noticing that no one was really restoring the area’s old log homes, McNeil took few courses and began building up a reputation and a name for himself restoring them.
To restore a home McNeil grinds the logs down to what he calls white wood, removing any damaged material in the process. Once this is done he puts a finish on it, chinks any holes and then adds two coats of varnish. He said he especially enjoys sanding and staining the logs and will even add little designs while he works.
“It takes me about two months (to do one home). I love it. Every house I do is on a lake and most of my customers are from away and have fixed incomes,” McNeil said.
When it comes to maintaining log homes, McNeil said preemptive maintenance is key. Typically, he said the side of the home that faces the sun the most year-round needs a new coat of stain once every three years to avoid excessive deterioration.
His love of woodworking extends beyond log homes. Every Saturday, McNeil can be found at the Loon Bay Craft market selling his wood furniture such as lampstands, coat racks and benches created from old stumps, branches and logs.
He started making wood furniture after he was out one day looking for cedar boughs at a log yard and chanced upon an old tree stump that had been hollowed out by nature and looked, for all the world, like a flower pot. He took it and a few others home to carve and stain into functioning flower pots. He’s since collected wood from the bush and log yards to bring home and modify into furniture. This is all done while keeping as much of its natural appearance as possible.
“I see art in wood, I see things in wood. All my stuff is what’s called single piece functional art,” McNeil said. “I bring wood home, put it in a pile and every now and then I sit around and just look at it. When a design hits me, I make it.”
One of his favourite creations he displays as a centrepiece at his Loon Bay display. It’s a piece he calls Spirit Bears – a bench and matching nightstand that all came from a single log of wood. McNeil loves the way they look and often encourages children who visit the market to use their imagination to picture the bears.
During the month of June, McNeil turned the Spirit Bears into a memorial for the children found buried at the Kamloops Indian Residental School. He spread cedar boughs upon the bears, which represent protection, and placed orange shirts and shoes on the bench to represent the children that were found.